Richard Learoyd’s color images are made with one of the most antiquarian of photographic processes: the camera obscura. Literally translated from Latin as “dark room,” Learoyd has created a room-sized camera in which the photographic paper is exposed. The subject—often a person, sometimes a still life—is in the adjacent room, separated by a lens. Light falling on the subject is directly focused onto the photographic paper without an interposing film negative. The result is an entirely grainless image. The overall sense of these larger-than-life images redefines the photographic illusion. Learoyd’s subjects, composed simply and directly, are described with the thinnest plane of focus, re-creating and exaggerating the way that the human eye perceives, and not without a small acknowledgement to Dutch Master painting.
Learoyd’s black-and-white gelatin silver contact prints are made using the negative/positive process invented roughly 170 years ago by Englishman W. H. Fox Talbot. Working with a large and portable camera obscura of his own construction, Learoyd has journeyed outside of his London studio, into the art-historically rich English countryside, along the California coast, and throughout Eastern Europe, producing images that have long been latent in his imagination. The negatives are up to 80 inches wide, resulting in the largest gelatin-silver contact prints ever made.
In 2015, Aperture released Richard Learoyd: Day for Night, a comprehensive book of color portraits and studio work, and concurrently, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London mounted a his first solo museum exhibition, Dark Mirror. In 2016, the J. Paul Getty Museum opened a solo exhibition of his large-scale portrait and still-life photographs, which then traveled to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. In 2019, a survey exhibition opened at Fundación MAPFRE in Spain, later traveling to the Fotomuseum der Haag.
Learoyd’s work is included in the collections of The Getty, Tate, Victoria & Albert Museum, Centre Pompidou, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Nelson-Atkins Museum, National Gallery of Canada, and Yale University Art Gallery, among others.